The key word for goth-pop outfit Evanescence's long-awaited comeback album, due this fall, is a bit unexpected. It's not "angsty" or "ominous" or "heavy."
"The record is fun" and that's a totally new thing for us," singer Amy Lee, 29, tells SPIN. "When I listen to our old music I see that's where I was in my life at that time. This has been a long trip and parts have been hard. But it's about not taking everything so seriously this time."
Since starting out in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1995, the band has been defined by drama, both onstage and off. There was the messy departure of co-founding songwriter Ben Moody in 2003 and then the even messier firing of drummer Rocky Gray and guitarist John LeComp in 2007, leading to rumors that Lee was iron-fisted in her leadership of the band, which, by then, consisted almost entirely of newly-hired hands. In fact, more than 10 different musicians have played in Evanescence; Lee is the only constant.
Last spring, after a much-needed break following the release of their second album, 2006's five-million-selling The Open Door, Evanescence entered a New York City studio with production vet Steve Lillywhite (U2, Rolling Stones) to record a collection of experimental, electro-leaning songs that Lee then told SPIN were influenced by Massive Attack and Portishead. Then the problems startedâ¦ again.
"It wasn't coming together right," Lee says. "Steve wasn't the right fit. We were on this experimental trip, trying a bunch of new things, seeing what would fit. I did a lot of the writing without the band. And then when we tried to pull the two worlds together, it wasn't working."
Evanescence stopped the sessions, and for a time their future was uncertain. Lee says she "didn't know what was going to happen, if we were going to be making a record again."
Then Evanescence, the group of hired guns led by the vision of Lee, became a real working band. Lee, guitarist Terry Balsamo, bassist Tim McCord, drummer Will Hunt, and programmer Will "Science" Hunt (yes, both guys share the same name) moved in with Lee and began re-working her songs and writing new material together.
"I've never felt so supported by my band members," says Lee. "We've really relied on each other. And everyone being a part of this album, from the ground up, is an entirely new approach for us. There's nobody that's just coming in to play guitar. Everybody's invested. We're more truly a band now than ever before."
She adds, "We took the best songs we had, added more, and reworked them as a group. They're stronger than before... when it was more one-dimensional."
With 19 tunes, the band reentered the studio this month, but this time with rock producer Nick Rasculinecz. "My favorite records that came out recently were from Alice in Chains and the Deftones -- and he produced both," says Lee. "We love working with him -- he makes it so fun.
"Writing with the band and working with a heavy rock producer has made it more of a rock record," she says. "It's Evanescence, but with all these new sounds," including synths and vintage keyboards like the Moog Taurus Pedal.
Lee wrote a handful of the new tracks on harp, including the ballad "Secret Door" and "My Heart is Broken." Another track, "Oceans," "starts with a big, low synth and a vocal, then the band kicks in," says Lee. "It's big and lush. We've been having a lot of fun playing that one especially."
There are a variety of lyrical subjects on the album. "I get inspired by nature," says Lee. "The ocean's been a theme. Brokenness has become a little bit of theme, without necessarily offering a solution."
She adds: "Life can be tough sometimes. But I think it just starts with admitting, 'Okay, the world's not perfect, how do we live our lives within that and not be miserable?'
"There was some real struggle trying to figure out what I want this band to be. I want Evanescence to feel passionate. It's about looking for the answers and not always knowing them."